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2021 NFL Power Rankings Based on Opening Lines

Updated August 16th, 2021
Published May 21, 2020

After the NFL releases its schedule for the upcoming season, the race is on between sportsbooks to be the first to open lines for not just Week 1, but every game of the season. This is the first year we’ve also seen lines for the final week of the season, which is Week 18 in 2021.

We got those opening lines for the 2021 NFL season very early. Using these lines, we’ve calculated the sum of spreads for each team’s (17) games, resulting in an ATS +/- for the season. This metric gives you a look at the expectations for each team this season – our power rankings.

This differs slightly from a traditional power ranking, since it factors in NFL strength of schedule and is also rooted in numbers instead of pure speculation. Using a consistent method each year also allows us to draw trends based on past results, which you’ll see below.

2021 NFL Power Rankings

To be clear, these are opening lines from the offseason for every week. We will not consider what the lines open at ahead of each week during the season. Obviously, with the way NFL spreads work – the favorite is giving up points – the more negative the ATS +/- is, the better the team is expected to be.

2021 NFL Power Rankings Based on ATS +/-

Rank Team ATS +/-
1 Kansas City Chiefs -115
2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -97.5
3 Buffalo Bills -88
4 Baltimore Ravens -73
5 San Francisco 49ers -72.5
6 Cleveland Browns -62
7 Los Angeles Rams -57.5
8 Indianapolis Colts -43
9 Seattle Seahawks -25
10 Dallas Cowboys -20.5
11 New Orleans Saints -17
12 Green Bay Packers -12
13 Arizona Cardinals -10
14 Los Angeles Chargers -7.5
15 Tennessee Titans -6
16 Minnesota Vikings -4.5
17 Pittsburgh Steelers -3
18 Miami Dolphins -2
19 Denver Broncos 1.5
20 New England Patriots 3
21 Atlanta Falcons 24.5
22 Las Vegas Raiders 39
23 Carolina Panthers 40.5
24 Washington Football Team 41
25 New York Giants 41.5
26 Chicago Bears 45.5
27 Philadelphia Eagles 54.5
28 Jacksonville Jaguars 56.5
29 New York Jets 63
30 Cincinnati Bengals 69.5
31 Detroit Lions 108
32 Houston Texans 128

The Chiefs come in as the top team in my 2021 NFL Power Rankings, having an ATS +/- of -115. On average, the Chiefs are 6.8-point favorites in each game this season. It’s a significant drop off to get to the second-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers at -97.5, which makes them an average of 5.7-point favorites each week.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Texans in 32nd and Lions in 31st. Houston’s ATS +/- of 128 makes them an average of 7.5-point underdogs each week, while Detroit is an average 6.4-point underdog each week.

What can we take from this data? Let’s have a look back at the past six years (the image only features five, but some of the trends below consider six):

Power Rankings Over Last 5 Seasons

NFL Power Rankings and results for last five seasons

Trends from ATS +/- in Past Seasons

  • A team from the top four in ATS +/- has won the Super Bowl in four of the last six seasons – the Chiefs losing to the Bucs in the Super Bowl last year damaged this trend
  • A team from the top four in ATS +/- has made the Super Bowl in each of the last six seasons
  • At least one team from the top three in ATS +/- has missed the playoffs in each of the last six seasons, and at least two of the top five have missed the playoffs in four of the last six
  • The team with the worst ATS +/- has won more than five games only once in the last six seasons – the Washington Football Team bucked this trend thanks to an incredibly weak NFC East in 2020
  • The team with the best ATS +/- has only won the Super Bowl once in the last six years
  • At least two of the five worst teams in ATS +/- have gone on to lose 11+ games in each of the last six seasons
  • A team ranked between 18th and 25th of the ATS +/- has made the Super Bowl in four of the last six seasons
  • A team ranked between 18th and 25th of the ATS +/- has made their respective conference championship in five of the last six years – last year was the first time this did not come true
  • Of the two teams with the worst ATS +/- each season, we’ve only seen one go on to make the playoffs – the 2020 Washington Football Team
  • Only three teams who were in the bottom-five in ATS +/- have made the playoffs over the last five years (2020 Football Team, 2018 Colts, and 2017 Rams)
  • At least half of the top ten teams in ATS +/- have missed the playoffs in five of the last six years – it did not happen in 2020, but they also expanded the playoffs to include an extra wild card spot in each conference

NFL 2021 Predictions Based Off Power Ranking Trends

One of Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, or Baltimore will be playing in Super Bowl 56. It’s no coincidence that these are four of the top five teams in terms of Super Bowl odds, as well. But a second Super Bowl in three years isn’t likely for the Chiefs.

We’re also looking at one of the Chiefs, Buccaneers, or Bills missing the 2021-22 NFL playoffs.

There’s a very decent chance the team the Chiefs/Buccaneers/Bills/Ravens will face in Super Bowl 56 will be one of these teams: the Dolphins, Broncos, Patriots, Falcons, Raiders, Panthers, or Giants.

It’s bad news for Houston, however. As the team with the worst ATS +/-, the trend says they won’t win more than five games in 2020 – their win total is set at 4.5. One of the Lions, Bengals, Jets, and Jaguars will join them in losing 12+ games, as well.

You can also essentially write off the Texans and Lions from making the playoffs, and it’s very unlikely any of the other three teams in the bottom-five of ATS +/- will play more than 17 games this season.

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